It was the summer of 2018 when I was first introduced to the crime of human trafficking at our local CMSA meeting. During the CEU brunch, I was stunned to learn that human slavery proliferates in my Central Florida community and occurs in most small towns and metropolitan areas across all 50 states and internationally. Of the 5,147 human trafficking cases reported in 2018 through the National Human Trafficking Hotline, not one state was excluded. Human trafficking in the United States takes many forms and can involve exploitation of both adults and children for labor and sex. Traffickers and buyers encompass all racial, socio-economic and cultural groups.
Although the exact number is unknown, it’s estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 children in the U.S. are forced into commercial sex work every year. The threat of child exploitation remains very real and can occur in the home, on the street, and over the internet. Sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a societal issue that impacts a child’s emotional and psychological health and development. Child sexual abuse involves both boys and girls from 0-18 years old.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) includes the activities and crimes that involve the sexual abuse or exploitation of a child for financial benefit. CSEC describes the use of any person under the age of 18 for sexual purposes in exchange for money, food, shelter, drugs or protection from another person. CSEC may involve coercion and violence against children, economic exploitation, forced labor and contemporary slavery.
Child sex trafficking may include the commercial production of child pornography, online transmission of a live video of a child engaged in sexual activity and may include exotic dancing, stripping and prostitution when something is exchanged for anything of value.
While any child can be targeted by a trafficker, research has shown that traffickers target children with increased vulnerabilities. Homeless and runaway youth are some of the most vulnerable targets of traffickers, who use psychological pressure and intimidation to control to sexually exploit the child for financial benefit. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1 in 7 of the more than 23,500 runaways were likely to be victims of child sex trafficking. Survivors of trafficking tell us they have been trafficked by gangs, friends, family members and romantic partners.
- Children who are chronically missing or who frequently run away (especially 3+ missing incidents)
- Children who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, especially if the abuse was unreported or unaddressed, or resulted in the child being removed from the home
- Children who have experienced prior sexual assault or rape by family members or peers
- Children with significant substance abuse issues or who live with someone who has significant substance abuse issues
- Children who identify as LGBTQ and have been kicked out or who have been stigmatized by their family
- Children with a lack of social support and isolation
- Family dysfunction
- Learning and developmental disabilities
- Girls in foster care
The spread of child sexual abuse is complex, and the rise of the internet and social media recruitment has increased exposure to an online marketplace, whereby traffickers use sextortion techniques to coerce children on social media and game systems. Sextortion refers to the broad category of sexual exploitation in which traffickers use blackmail as the means of coercion. The threat of releasing sexual images or information to the minor’s parents or the general public may be used to further amplify the coercion.
Online traffickers may “like,” comment, ask to be friends and gather information to use to recruit and groom our youth. Online chatting can be used as an opportunity to gather information and may lead to a trafficker convincing a minor to send a risky picture which may be used for exploitation.
HOW CAN WE KEEP OUR CHILDREN SAFE WITH ONLINE USE?
The internet is a social playground. As parents, grandparents, educators and healthcare professionals, we need to educate ourselves and be aware of who our kids’ friends are online and offline. Educate our children on the dangers of “oversharing” online. Teach them that every move we make does not have to be documented online, and remind them that social media is not a diary or a personal photo album. Do not take or share naked photos with anyone.
PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN
Law enforcement is ramping up on trafficking, and we need to ensure that our healthcare providers, educators, first responders and government officials are trained on what to look for and what to do when they suspect human trafficking.
It may sound simple, but developing a loving and connected relationship with your kids is most important. Spend time with them, tell them you love them and express your appreciation for them. Treat your child with respect and honesty. Your example should teach them how to distinguish real love from counterfeit.
A child’s safety is more important than their privacy. As a parent/guardian, you are not being nosy by checking their cell phone on a regular basis; you are being a responsible parent.
Educate yourself and stay up to date with new apps. Every few weeks, do a quick online search for “new social media apps.” Get familiar with the apps before your kids. Discuss the apps/sites you find with your kids, ask them what they know and keep the lines of communication open. Set appropriate parental controls, age restrictions for downloading apps, time restrictions, etc. Check your kids’ devices frequently and thoroughly. Consider connecting to all the apps from your child’s device. View the child’s activity, messages, contacts etc.
Some companies offer software to help you monitor kids’ activity on phones and apps.
APPS PARENTS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
- Plenty of Fish
- Best Secret Folder
- Hot or Not
SAFE HARBOR LAWS
Many states have enacted Safe Harbor Laws to combat human trafficking. This law prevents minors (any child under 18) from being prosecuted for prostitution and directs juvenile sex trafficking victims to non-punitive specialized services.
These special protections are not available to minors who have been trafficked for purposes of forced labor.
Safe harbor laws protect child victims of sex trafficking from unjust criminalization and promotes the use of safe houses rather than juvenile detention of child survivors.
REPORT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. For more resources for victims of human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at https://humantraffickinghotline.org/
- Call: 1-888-373-788 (TTY: 711)
- Text: 233733
- Chat at https://humantraffickinghotline.org/chat
- Report a Tip at https://humantraffickinghotline.org/report-trafficking